Solar Lighting for the Garden

Garden lighting

Solar lights come in all sizes and shapes.

There are new and exciting styles and fixtures for landscape solar lighting being introduced every year, expanding the effects you can get with them. It used to be that the only way to use them was to stick them in rows like lolly-pops. But there are now solar flood lights, spots, hanging and table lamps and even lights you can attach on the stem of an outdoor umbrella to up-light the inside of the fabric. As the demand for solar lighting grows in popularity, even these choices will continue to expand. Solar lights collect energy from daytime sun so these lights will have no impact on your electric bill. You can even bypass the issue of wires that can be broken or cut outdoors since the only bit of wiring required takes place inside the solar light fixture. That also means you can place your lights at any distance you want since you do not need an electrical outlet.

Although light capacity is increasing, solar lighting is still weaker than low volt lighting. It is best for creating glowing effects in the garden. One suggestion might be to follow a winding path with solar lights to draw a sinuous snake of light through your garden or up a slope or hill after dark. Another idea is to place solar lights behind sculptural plants to create a background glow. There are solar lamps that are fabricated to look like ordinary table lamps that are safer to use than candles. There are even some low volt and solar lights that mimic candles! Edge a garden or patio with solar lights, or consider lining an edging with a strip of LED tubing. Add solar lights in areas away from the house where you might want to see your footing at night. Wherever you use your lights, always position the solar collectors on top to get the maximum exposure to direct sun so you’ll store enough energy to last well into the night.

Most solar lamps still come in either a cool or warm hue. The cool, stark white color that looks best in a garden with a contemporary, nautical, or a stylistic feel. Some of the warmer yellow tints even border on orange. These blend in best with rustic, country, romantic or cottage type gardens.

Expect batteries to collect solar energy for two to four years before they start to dim and need replacing. The job is easily done and batteries can be found at some home stores, garden centers, electrical supply shops and online.

Add night lighting to your landscape and suddenly you will have magical views from both indoors and outdoors. Create different effects with different lighting and punch up focal points, target your favorite décor or make cooking, relaxing and entertaining out-of-doors safe, easy and attractive. Remember that lighting your property will also discourage unwanted visitors – human and wildlife alike. And keep in mind that you will walk safer after dark if you can see where you are putting your feet – especially where there are steps, stairs, level changes or protruding objects.

Lighting the garden makes outdoor living a real asset to your house. You will be able to use more square footage, help increase the value of your property and make your home a more beautiful and fun place to enjoy while riding out the housing market slump. There are so many ways to light up your landscape, so many tricks, fixtures, angles and possibilities that you might just as well light up your spirits and the whole ambiance of your garden at the same time. You can mix low voltage lights with LEDs and solar lights to invent a whole design of your own or call in a designer or lighting expert for suggestions. Then you can have your own outdoor garden party every night. Don’t miss out on all the possibilities you can create by lighting up your landscape at night.



Free weather based irrigation controllers for SCV homeowners

Teaching about irrigation

Smart landscape irrigation class in Santa Clarita

The California state program, “20% by 2020” has been formed to help reduce water consumption within the state by twenty percent by the year 2020. As part of that program the Castaic Lake Water Agency in Santa Clarita has been offering courses that not only educate landscapers in ‘smart’ controllers  but includes free weather based irrigation controllers for home use. The program has been so successful for SCV businesses that it has now expanded its scope to include homeowners, too. As a result, you can get a free smart irrigation controller – worth hundreds of dollars – to provide more efficient watering for your own landscape.

Smart irrigation controller

The workings of a weather based irrigation controller

Smart irrigation controllers come with sensors that adjust watering daily to the weather conditions in each individual landscape. These controllers are very similar to those most people already use but will override their programmed instructions if soil does not need irrigation due to rain, clouds or cooler temperatures. The result is that your plants will get all the water they need without any wasted over-watering. And you don’t have to baby-sit your controller, turning it on and off or adjusting timers whenever the weather changes. You can even program to consider longer or shorter days, different valve settings, or to over-ride settings for a temporary manual test or adjustment.

The two to three hour class, conducted by Rene Emeterio at the Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant and Conservatory Garden off of Bouquet Canyon Road in Santa Clarita takes you through all the directions for installing and setting up the programming for your free controller. The program is for residential use only and you must live within the Castaic Lake Water Agency service area . To qualify you need follow three simple steps:

  • Take the class
  • Install your timer over the next thirty days
  • Have Rene will come out and inspect your installation job

The class also offers suggestions on how to save water indoors and landscaping tips on creating a more successful and efficient drought-tolerant design outdoors for our environment in the SCV area. Add your new smart irrigation controller and you are ready to cut your water consumption – and bill – radically.

Since seventy percent of the average household water use goes into outdoor use and roughly one third of that water is wasted with unused run-off, the smart controller will not only save you money, but will be helping save one of our most precious natural resources. In this inland chaparral environment where summers are some of the hottest and driest in Los Angeles, getting a free weather based irrigation controller complete with directions for installation and programming is a give-away you shouldn’t miss. You will make your life easier, save time, maintenance, money, and water while you help your local environment. Now that’s a good deal!

Course in irrigation

Learning how to program a weather based timer

For more information you can call the Castaic Lake Water Agency at 661 297-1600, Rene Emeterio at 877 242-2262, or email


Low Volt Lighting

low volt candle lighting

Glowing low volt candle lights designed by Nick Williams (Photo: Jane Gates)

Low volt lights come in a wide range of effects and fixtures so you can create a whole new outdoor world that looks entirely different from your daytime landscape. Since you are using only 12 volt current, there is little danger of shock or fire and the demand on your electric bill will be slight. Here are some tips on ways to use regular low volt fixtures for interesting light and shadow effects.






  1. Set up your lights high. By perching lighting so it shines down from patio covers, tree branches or doorways you can downlight the ground or any objects below.
  2. Go for angles. Tilt a light back up into trees or shrub for a textural effect or allow the light to spill onto a wall to create a glowing effect.
  3. Pick out special features. Set a spotlight where it will illuminate a group of plants or a special structure as a focal point. Or consider creative ways for walkway lighting like embedding the lights or creating light edgings in the path surface.
  4. Hide lights behind plants or objects to silhouette them. Back-lighting a specimen plant or another feature in the garden will paint it out as a black, cut-out shadow.
  5. Light up a water feature. Adding lights that will reflect from the surface or below the water of a waterfall, fountain or pond will add a scintillating dimension to these focal points after dark.

As low volt lighting grows in popularity, so do the choices in lighting fixtures. Look through catalogs or lighting suppliers as well as garden centers. You will find lights that look like lamps or some that are hidden in sculptures. There are flood lights, spot lights, clip-on lights and fixtures with stakes that come in a wide assortment of styles and materials. Some come with colors or convenient housing for adding colored gels. Some even move creating motion effects or special patterns.

Low volt lighting also has a practical side. Not only can you create nighttime magical pictures with your garden after dark, you can add lights for safe passage, make a barbecue or entertainment area glow invitingly, illuminate stairs and obstacles and discourage unwanted visitors. Make driveways and patios attractive and safer with soft lighting, too. Take a look at the world of low volt lighting. It will make you look at your landscape in a whole new way.

Santa Ana Winds in the Chaparral

Chaparral winds

Santa Ana winds bluster through chaparral communities

Sometimes it is frustrating living in the outskirts of a large city, especially here in the higher, inland chaparral of Los Angeles county. People never think about the bigger picture when it comes to weather. All those glamorous weather gals that wax poetic about the wonderful weather in Los Angeles often forget someone else is paying for it. It is true all over the world, too, since we all forget that roughly the same amount of precipitation falls each year: it’s just the weather patterns that deposit it differently from year to year. No, we tend to think of reality as being limited to the space around each of us. And that certainly limits our perception of weather conditions. That means most people in this corner of the world don’t know much about the Santa Ana winds in the chaparral. If you have a home or garden here, however, you should know to buy heavy outdoor pots and furniture, stake trees and keep gardens well watered.

As the happy folks in Los Angeles rejoice at the warm weather we are currently having here in sunny Southern California, there are those of us watching our roofing shingles being peeled away, trees being felled, and gardens being stripped of anything not battened to the ground with cast iron weights while the Santa Ana winds rip through the area howling at 60 and 70 mph. As they go they conjure up dust storms filled with inflated plastic shopping bags, dried leaves, unidentified pieces of riff-raff, and torn self-created origami scrap papers. Unless you have new windows and doors, expect these invading winds to shrill through the tiniest cracks sounding like winds on the Alaskan tundra while they threateningly rattle at your window glass.  These pounding winds will continue for days as they hurl themselves down the canyons of the chaparral, compressing and warming the air to puff it out gently into the Los Angeles city area where recipients will delight in the warm, lovely weather.

This is just part of the normal weather in the upper chaparral. I tried explaining it to my garden that the downed fencing and blown over plants shouldn’t take it so hard, but they simply won’t listen. I guess I can just be thankful for all the natives I’ve planted. These plants scoff at winds, freezes and frying heat spells. One more reason to plant local natives in your garden. They don’t complain like we humans or our delicate plant imports.

So, hopefully the Santa Ana chaparral winds will blow themselves out soon so I can creep outdoors and start cleaning up the mess they leave behind. A good night’s sleep would be nice, too. In the meantime, frolic on, you television weather fashionistas. We will be toughing it out here in the inland chaparral. Unlike you, we’re a hearty breed. …Like we have a choice?

Outdoor Landscape Lighting

Night landscape

Add the glow of a lighted archway at night.

Many of us spend more time at home in the evenings than we do during the day. In hot climates it is much more comfortable outdoors at night than during the heat of the day and in cooler climates the outdoors becomes a delightful place in summer to extend your living space once the sun goes down. But in the darkness, the landscape goes to sleep. Yet you can bring your garden back to life – in fact, you can turn your whole house and landscape into a magical wonderland – by adding lighting to your outdoor space. Then it will fill your windows with luminescent nighttime pictures and you can even go out and enjoy the out-of-doors after dark for a mini retreat or turn your backyard seating area into an outdoor room for entertainment. Outdoor landscape lighting entices you outdoors and allows you to use this extension of your home space into the after-dark hours. It also adds an element of security and allows you to move around safely whenever you need to go outside at night.

You can have lighting hard-wired to your household electrical current with full 110 voltage. But there are better choices. Low volt lighting and solar lighting are offering intensities and artistic fixtures that are more efficient and decorative than ever before. LED lighting is also catching up with outdoor designs, but right now the power is still somewhat limited.

Lighting the garden makes outdoor living a real asset to your house. You will be able to use more square footage, help increase the value of your property and make your home a more beautiful and fun place to enjoy while riding out the housing market slump. There are so many ways to light up your landscape, so many tricks, fixtures, angles and possibilities that you might just as well light up your spirits and the whole ambiance of your garden at the same time. You can mix low voltage lights with LEDs and solar lights to invent a whole design of your own. Or call in a designer or lighting expert for suggestions. Don’t miss out on all the possibilities you can create by lighting up your landscape at night.



Landscape lighting for the Christmas and Chanukah holidays

Holiday lights

LED lights burn cooler than other types, use little electricity and come in many forms, including flexible strings/ ropes that can be used to create colorful line drawings at night.

Landscape lighting for Christmas comes in so many more forms than ever before. You can deck the halls with strings of LED lights, projected pictures, lighted imagery, spot lights, or mobile glittering lights. Icicles are back in fashion, too. And for those who are lighting up the Jewish holidays, colors can be just as decorative in blues and whites as in greens and reds.

Install holiday lights – whether for Christmas, Hannuka or any other holiday – with care. Make sure you use GFI protected outlets outdoors. And only use lighting designed to be used outside for outdoor decor. Outdoor lighting is designed to handle weather that indoor décor is not safe to use.

There is no limit to the styles and effects you can use in your holiday landscape. Look at examples of what other people have designed. And check through magazines and on the internet for lots of exciting examples.

If you want help either with designing or setting up your lighting, there are people who can help. Some landscaping companies focus on landscape Christmas lights and some people offer their services for creative designs and for installation. Consider hiring a handyman if all you need is practical help hanging your lights.

Enjoy the season to decorate your home – or office building – with landscape lighting. You can turn your house into your own winter wonderland. Save money with low energy-using lights like LEDs, exercise your creativity to paint your house with light, and install your lighting decorations with care to avoid electrical dangers. Get help if you need it. But most of all, have fun designing your landscape into a holiday wonderland lit up for all to admire! Whether you are simply decorating a tree or creating a whole, glowing holiday landscape picture, bring your holidays alive with landscape lighting.